women in tech, soft skillsFor an industry that prides itself on breaking boundaries, technology’s gender disparity is a contradiction which demands resolution. 

Research compiled by Datatech Analytics shows that only 27% of jobs in data and AI are held by women, and if you think this a symptom of historical gender differences in the uptake of STEM subjects and City jobs, think again: this figure is a 20-year low.

Tech needs to diversify: employers are currently underutilising 50% of the potential workforce while women are being excluded from well-paid, creative and rewarding jobs in an industry that will shape the future for generations to come. So, what are the key barriers to women in tech, and how can we overcome them?

Barriers to women in tech do not begin at recruitment: the national curriculum embeds tech within STEM subjects, so that from the age of four children start to view tech as an industry of hard science, analysis, and fortnightly ICT lessons. Restricting tech to STEM subjects narrows an industry defined by its growth potential: while logical and analytical skills are beneficial in tech, so are creative thinking and the ability to reason. The child who scored 100% on their French vocab test might one day become fluent in several coding languages. Children who do well in history might have a particular talent for trawling a wide range of sources to find solutions to problems. What about the budding artists who show great attention to detail, or the music students who memorise complex pieces with high accuracy? How can we nurture these skills which might one day be invaluable in a high-tech company? Conceptualising tech in an interdisciplinary way makes it more accessible to everyone. The education system would benefit children and the tech sector by re-addressing how tech can be integrated across the curriculum.

Changing how tech is taught in schools would go some way to opening it up as an industry, but it’s clear that the industry’s gender disparity problem won’t be solved from one side. A push for women in tech needs to be matched by a pull. Employers need to be proactive in hiring – and that starts with being conscious and well-versed in the barriers to women’s recruitment, and understanding why they exist. Generally speaking, EdTech is one of the better sectors for gender equality, and at Atom we are over 50% female – but this is unusual. Across the tech sector, only 17% of roles are filled by women and this is reflected in the predominance of men at the panels, events, and pitches I attend on a weekly basis. The figures at the highest level are even more extreme: only around 5% of senior leadership positions in tech companies are filled by women. To attract women into the industry this needs to be tackled – you can’t be what you can’t see. Managers have a responsibility to encourage engagement with this issue – whether sharing female-led tech events or connecting female leaders with their team.

My own experience in tech proves that the industry is more than ones and zeros, giant monitors and Silicon Valley, and that a non-STEM background does not exclude you from it. After graduating with a degree in English Literature, I moved to Malaysia to work in Arts and Education tuition. I was working full time as a private tutor when I met the Atom Learning co-founders, Alex and Jake, who told me about their idea for an AI-driven EdTech platform that they thought could help reduce inequalities in access to personalised education. Though I’ve always been interested in EdTech, a lot of my learning has been done on the job. I completed online coding courses which equipped me with the basic knowledge of the language of tech, enabling me to contribute to  conversations about the development of the Atom platform in a fuller way – benefitting myself, my team, and our product. I have learnt other valuable lessons without the help of online courses. In a startup, mindset is as important as skillset. Grow a thick skin to those who want to keep tech defined as a realm unknowable and inaccessible to anyone without a computer science degree. Technology is innovation, which, to the shock of some technologists I’ve worked with, is genderless.

As employers, as recruiters, as teachers, as students, as women and men in tech, developers and users of technology, we all have a role to play in diversifying the workforce that will develop the tools for our future. If you were surprised by the stats on women in tech in this article, others in your professional or social networks might be too. Share these stats – for collective action, everyone needs to be informed. If you teach, know anyone who teaches, or indeed is a student at primary or secondary school, think about whether you could reframe your conversations around tech and coding. A career in tech is within the reach of anyone interested in a fast-growth industry, and should be introduced to pupils as such. If you are a woman considering a career in tech – learn the skills, but remember, you will learn the most important lessons on the job – so go for it.

Within the industry, we need more women in senior leadership roles, and we must tackle this proactively, rather than simply pay lip service to the sentiment. This is a cause that all in the industry, whether for commercial or social reasons, should be interested in championing. Technology is set to become an even more dominant feature of our lives, and it is in the interests of all to ensure that the architects of that future represent those who will be impacted by it.

Flo SimpsonAbout the author

Flo Simpson is Head of Product for Atom Learning, a Key Stage 2 online teaching and learning platform. Atom Learning combines high-quality, teacher-made content with sophisticated technology to keep students on their individual, optimal learning paths. 
Flo graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in English Literature and is a former private tutor. Her role involves product design and development, content, and international expansion. She works closely with teachers and schools and manages a team of six.